Should the new guidelines be followed, carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from China’s livestock industry would be reduced by 1bn tonnes by 2030—compared to a projected 1.8bn tonnes based on current meat consumption growth.
Beijing’s health ministry now recommends that adults should consume 40-75g of meat per person each day, reducing average annual per-capita meat consumption to 14-72kg a year from the current average of 63kg a year per person.
A further 30kg of meat per person is expected to be added by 2030 if nothing is done to change this trend—though consumers in countries like America and Australia currently consume twice as much meat per capita as their Chinese counterparts.
The dietary guidelines, released once every decade, are designed to improve public health, though this time they are also expected to lead to a significant cut to greenhouse gas emissions.
Almost 15% of the world’s global-warming emissions are produced by livestock, including cows, chickens, pigs and other animals, while land clearing and fertilisers release large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere.
Li Junfeng, director general of China’s National Centre on Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, said: “Tackling climate change involves scientific judgement, political decisions, entrepreneurial support, but at last, it still relies on involvement of the general public to change the consumption behaviour in China.
“Through this kind of lifestyle change, it is expected that the livestock industry will transform and carbon emissions will be reduced.”
Despite the Chinese government’s new commitment to reducing meat consumption, it may be difficult to convince the country’s growing middle-classes to cut down. There are also strong cultural traditions attached to the eating of many animals, especially pigs.
Meanwhile, New Zealand exporters have been urged not to worry that the new guidelines will harm the meat trade with China.
In a radio interview, Export New Zealand's Catherine Beard said that many Chinese already eat meat within that recommended range, while those who eat more will keep on doing so.
She said: “There's a whole lot of Chinese people that as they get richer and have better incomes, they're wanting to add meat into their diet, so I just think there's still going to be huge opportunity there, I'm not thinking it's too major a deal.”